Benedict’s Dr. Artis: “The Search for Wakanda Begins With Investment in HBCUs”

What if we supported our nation’s HBCUs with the same gusto with which we supported “Black Panther"?

This morning on my drive to work I listened, as I always do, to the Tom Joyner Morning Show. Shaun King, noted civil rights activist and writer, offered a poignant perspective this morning on the historical significance of the blockbuster movie, “Black Panther.”

He correctly acknowledged the movie as one of the pivotal moments in African American history, to be considered alongside Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” sales records, the election of Barack Obama and Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat. The success of the movie, starring an almost entirely black cast, casts women in positions of power, strength and superior intellect. Black men shine as wise, responsible leaders and warriors.

Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis
Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis

I concur with King: “Black Panther” is sure to go down in history as one of the most powerful examples of Black pride in a generation or more.

The record is clear—Wakanda is a place that many African Americans long for—a place where their creative genius is recognized and technological and intellectual pursuits are acknowledged and celebrated. Having taken my own family to see the movie and read numerous accounts of the movie’s success at the box office, I can’t help but ask “What if?”

“Black Panther” enjoyed staggering, record-breaking sales figures: $400 million in the first weekend, twice the cost to film it! King further explained that the movie is on track to exceed records and hit a billion dollars in sales overall. As I listened, I could not help but reflect on the difference $1 billion could make to our nation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

What if we supported our nation’s HBCUs with the same gusto with which we supported “Black Panther?”

In many respects, HBCUs are our version of Wakanda—they are places where creativity is celebrated and technology is developed by people of color. They are places of great pride, where black people are not excluded or ostracized but embraced and celebrated. Indeed, HBCUs have always been our Wakanda. However, lack of support for these institutions by both government and even our graduates and other people of color have threatened their very existence.

What if we invested $1 billion dollars in our HBCUs? Oh what a difference that kind of money could make to an HBCU! What medical advancements, artistic achievements engineering fetes and technological innovations might be realized by students of color if the classrooms and laboratories, studios and stages were all equipped with state of the art equipment to stimulate their genius?

While we all celebrate the milestone achievement of the directors, writers. actresses and actors in “Black Panther,” remember that Wakanda is a fictional place. HBCUs are real. If we truly desire to see the ideals of Wakanda lived out, i.e. bastions of intellectual exploration, dignity and cultural pride for African Americans, we must invest in HBCUs. Consider investing even the price of a movie ticket in your local HBCU. Even if you did not attend one of these venerable institutions, your support is appreciated.

To be clear, I am a “Black Panther”/Wakanda fan, and particularly because of its beautiful HBCU connections. Its lead star Chadwick Boseman is a Howard University alumnus. Its lead costume designer, Academy Award winner Ruth Carter is a Hampton University alumna. The artist that brought “Black Panther” to life is Sanford Greene, an alumnus and faculty member of Benedict College.

Michael Colter, who plays the lead in Marvel’s “Luke Cage” also attended Benedict. Breakout Nigerian actress, Sope Aluko, is a personal friend…. We are all connected to this historic production in some way, and its imagery, brilliance and symbolism cannot be overstated.

But only a small number of deserving African Americans will reap the financial rewards of the blockbuster sales this weekend. To the contrary, generations will reap the benefits of our investment in HBCUs.

The facts are clear–the African American middle class was built on the backs of the students at historically black colleges and universities, who marched and fought for civil rights. The documentary film, “Tell Them We Are Rising,” documents our advocacy and engagement heritage. Surely, that merits our support. If our goal is to see Wakanda become a reality, the best way to do that is to invest in an HBCU.

Don’t just buy a movie ticket, buy a piece of the future by supporting an HBCU student! The return on that investment is tangible, long-lasting and life-changing.

Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis is President of Benedict College, a UNCF-member institution.